You know you’re at home finally in a foreign land among an alien folk on the street in the market at a bus stop when from the face of a stranger strutting young blade or dolled up agashi (“virgin miss”) besotted office drone stumbling homeward crinkled sidewalk auntie peddling mushrooms and yams the familiar eyes of an old friend decades dead a perished father a lover long gone over to the Other Side stare back
by Sean O’Gorman
and your dreamy neon lights, Nascar cab drivers indifferent to my safety belts, you’ve always given me a bed, at times it’s been a park bench, but if you couldn’t get me home you always woke me up with sunlight. Thank you.
When you live across the ocean from your past done it long enough you begin to speak mostly in landmarks and memories.
Being here there’s a list of names it grows inside of you you’ll watch it get longer with the more people you meet.
Here we cram lifetimes into years the way we do holidays into weekends. Our friends back home will never understand this shifted perception of time we share. We blink in months. The realization of how long I’ve been here is the difference between surprise and shock. I’ve coasted this peninsula for more days than it has kilometers around it.
The clocks here all speak in rotaries, the calendars laugh every year I come around. I swear every single one I buy has fewer days in it. Time here only recognizes what you’ve done,
It doesn’t care about what you want to do so we take our hearts out of our chests for each other, for the people we’ve just met. When we do meet when we find each other, it will be somewhere lost. It’ll feel like I’ve always known you been looking for you didn’t know it until that very moment.
If you’re new I’ll pull you aside. List all the groups to join online. I’ll tell you there’s a truth to the noraebangs, we half mention it on the nights that never end.
Make the most of your time here, but be mindful of a few things. People drive motorcycles on the sidewalks in this place. Drinking is its own highway half wonderful half blackout thunderstorm, there’s nothing at the end of it, trust me, I’ve looked.
If you need me I’ll always be in the way, somewhere between last class and first drink, look for me where I eat where the tables are the offspring of building blocks, they cater to any size crowd. When I ask to meet you it’ll be half-way. Meet me at that place where for some reason only one of us knows how to get to, we’ll speak in pin drops just to get there.
What I love about this community, the people here all recommend other people you should meet.
To everyone on that list inside of me all of you reading this right now, it’ll feel like a coin toss which one of us will leave first. If it’s you we’ll throw the right kind of party it will begin somewhere in an afternoon, shuffle last times in favourite places. It will end a few days later a little more broken but a bit more ready. If I’m the one to go know this I will carry a piece of you with me, all my friends back home will know you by name. A part of me will break.
When we do leave, we’ll never fully leave each other, a part of us will always exist here like songs lost in a playlist. I’ll remember you when I find a sudden genre shift to the music, where a single drink turns into an entire night when I stay up late enough to watch the sunrise anytime I eat take out you’ll exist for a moment there on the outskirts of my peripheral vision. Remember me when you spell a word wrong, when one of your friends drunkenly leaves the bar without saying goodbye. I’ll exist in those moments when they become no longer physical a landmark trapped in a memory. a picture in a shoebox a smile when you’re all alone.
Ash Dean is an MFA graduate of The International Writing Program at City University of Hong Kong. He grew up in Ferguson, Missouri and currently lives in Songdo, South Korea. His work has appeared in Amethyst, Cha, Drunken-Boat, Gravel, Ma La, Mason’s Road, Red Coyote, Soul-Lit and anthologized in Afterness: Literature from the New Transnational Asia. He is the author of Cardiography from Finishing Line Press.
Robert Perchan’s poetry chapbooks are Mythic Instinct Afternoon (2005 Poetry West Prize) and Overdressed to Kill (Backwaters Press 2005 Weldon Kees Award). His poetry collection Fluid in Darkness, Frozen in Light won the 1999 Pearl Poetry Prize and was published by Pearl Editions in 2000. In 2007 his short-short story “The Neoplastic Surgeon” won the on-line Entelechy: Mind and Culture Bio-fiction Prize. He currently resides in Pusan, South Korea. You can see some of his stuff on robertperchan.com.
Sean O’Gorman is a Canadian spoken word poet living in Ulsan, South Korea. He’s the literary editor for AngleMagazine and has been organizing the Cypher open mic in Ulsan for the past 6 years. He’s competed in multiple national and international poetry slams, toured Canada as the featured poet twice, and released 5 collections of his work.
I looked up from
my drawing into the blinding sunlight but could not see more than the
silhouettes of the bodies speaking above me. Among the dark, deep voices
speaking rapid Greek was a familiar woman’s voice also speaking in that strange
language, all oo’s and k’s and plosive p’s. Beside me in the trench dug ten feet into
this archeological earth was another member of the Brit team, a girl in her
twenties named Juliet. She and I got on only civilly because she was a London
type and I was a Scot she nicknamed ‘Burr,’ more I think for my temperament
than my thick accent. I was sketching Juliet’s dig, out of which were emerging
large decorated jars and something which at this stage look like a shelf.
Juliet could speak Greek.
translated, “You are raising the dead. We go to pick tomatoes and see the
bright light before the sun rises over – solid bodies – carrying shields above
“Who are they?” I
She shushed me,
threatening me with the brush. An official-sounding voice spoke above us then.
Juliet said. “Agreement with Athens not to disturb the quality of life on
Santorini – “
“Tell that to the
dogs who own this island – “
Then again came
the voice that could silence me. The American professor who was the director of
the expedition, Irene Demas. She had my left upper incisor in her shorts
“We will of
course do all we can,” Juliet translated, “to stop – to eliminate – this
A peasant’s deep
“What? You must
stop the digging! My vines will not grow under ghost – under the feet of
replied, drifting down out of the murderous sunlight like a cool breeze. Juliet
“We will watch.
Then we will try to understand and –” Juliet turned to me, at a loss for
words. “It’s like ‘make amends’, I think, but I don’t know the expression.
There are lambs in it.”
official spoke in English. “You will stop the excavation?”
“I will watch,
myself, tonight,” Irene repeated. “This is your island. We are guests in your
spoke in Greek too guttural and rapid for Juliet to translate. But she had no
trouble with the farmer’s thanks, “Efkaristo,
sas efkaristo poli.”
climbed out of the trench, letting Irene see I was there, but keeping a
distance as the group leaders joined her. These were my Brit boss and a
professor from Athens, assistant to the big shot whose idea Irene had been able
to marshal the American money to realize. Because what we were all doing in the
1960’s on the Cycladic island of Santorini/Thera, in the best and hottest
summer of my life, was excavating Atlantis.
In the Timaeus, Plato told the story about a
divinely circular island in the western ocean. ‘But afterwards there occurred
violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune…the
island of Atlantis…disappeared in the depths of the sea.’ The big shot from
Athens was a seismologist who had reported his findings of a 16th
century b.c.e. volcanic eruption on an island sixty miles north of Crete. The
tidal wave from the Atlantis eruption had been anywhere from 200 to 750 feet
high when it hit land all around the eastern Mediterranean. The Athenian also
theorized that the Atlantis explosion explained the lowering and rising of
coastal water described in Exodus. In other words, the eruption at Atlantis
(five times stronger than Krakatoa) was the apocalyptic event of the ancient
world, remembered in the fundamental stories of Western civilization. When
Atlantis exploded, drowning surrounding islands and most of Crete, it became
the first place where the end of the world began.
Greece was in the
midst of a coup d’etat, and the big shot in Athens hadn’t been able to get funding
to prove his theories. Enter Professor Irene Demas, now with my incisor in her
pocket. The States were having their own imperial problems in Southeast Asia at
the time, but from what I understood, the war only made the country richer. As
a most junior assistant professor in scientific illustration at Cambridge, I
was ignorant of all these matters until impressed into service (tempted by a
fantastic summer salary) to join the Cambridge part of the archeological
expedition. There were land folk from the States and Britain and Athens, and
American sea folk with astonishing tech equipment from the Woods Hole
Oceanographic Labs, ships and seismologists, scientists, archeologists,
mythologists, photographers, and lucky me, the one with the colored pens and
pencils and expensive paper all paid for by the Americans.
In the afternoon,
when work had been called off, Professor Demas located me deep within one of
the cliff caves where I daily went during lunch-siesta, pretending to sketch
though actually sipping bottled water and sleeping on a colorful woolen throw
Irene said, “I
need a bodyguard for tonight.”
She was nearly
fifty then; I was twenty-seven. She was five feet tall and thin as a boy except
for the curve of her hips and braless breasts. She wore her brown hair braided
and coiled like a crown, grey at the temples like her eyes. I had seen Irene
Demas calm wild dogs with words in their language, which only possibly was
Greek. She had seen me with the three Athens toughs who’d tried to mug her on
our first night in Greece before the expedition had flown over to Thera.
Then, I only knew
her by sight from the plane trip from London. We arrived at Athens midday and
had spent most of the afternoon getting to our hotel and reaffirming arrangements
for the flight to the island. I was glad to let the grownups take care of all
of it and try my luck with Juliet, the result of which was I slept alone the
rest of that afternoon into evening and was nudged awake by my roommate, John,
an overeducated fellow from Cornwall eager for companionship for dinner in a
strange city. The July night felt as hot as noon in Britain. The crowded,
noisy, modern streets were a great disappointment. Like any first-time tourist
to Athens, I imagined I would be traveling back in time as well as space. John
and I ate oily food and drank mentholated wine. I abandoned John to his own
devices, which convinced him I was a stereotypically antisocial Scot.
I became lost in
trying to regain the hotel. Thankfully, some American college kids approached
me with their instant coffee camaraderie and correctly directed me. I remember
alleys of whitewashed stone, stinks of strange foods and organic fluids, and
above all the nauseating sounds of an alien language closing in on me. People
leaned out of windows. Everywhere there were second story balconies like those
unearthed on Thera.
I saw a tiny
woman in a long khaki skirt and white blouse walking ahead of me. I recognized
her as the American professor. She had a sweater or shawl tied around her
shoulders. Self-possessed, holding her sack close to her body. I heard
footsteps behind me. Three boys ran past me, waving me off with threats I
didn’t need to translate. They blocked her path. She spoke to them in
cool-toned Greek, and maybe she would have handled them as ably as she did the
dogs on Thera, but I saw one of them lean in for her sack.
I expected to
fight. So, fists and some feet, and a whistle! that was Irene, blowing a
piercing whistle – I got two of the three down quickly. I was sweating, and it
was so hot, I drank the blood in my mouth like water. I faced the third teddy
boy. I hit him easily; his hands were up in protest, not in fists, “Parakalo, parakalo,” he kept crying. The
three of them lay on the stone street. People were above, calling out, some
curses, some cheers (Irene translated later), and there was Irene, holding a
small shiny revolver in her left hand. She knelt and picked up a bloody tooth
from the ground. My incisor. She wrapped it in a tissue from her sack and
placed my tooth in her skirt pocket. Shortly after, at a hospital emergency
clinic, she offered it to a dental surgeon. She told me she had retrieved it
for this reason, but I already knew better about that woman. She had an eye for
At noon in the
grey Theran cave, I said, “You don’t need a bodyguard against Minoan ghosts or
“The report of a
woman alone would not be believed. The men chose you to accompany me.”
“Should I believe
For the first
time, Irene looked surprised by something I said.
“There are fifty
underlings you could have sent on this errand,” I added.
“I’m what they
call in the States a micromanager. My husband, of course, called it something
She wore no ring.
And noticed my glance.
From her shorts
pocket she took a hand-drawn – my work – map of the site and pointed to a group
of huge, flat blocks believed to have been part of a palace wall or, possibly,
temple altar stones. I nodded in compliance. At the cave entrance, which was a
natural opening in the rock cliff that over centuries had been bricked into
formal arches appropriate to the religious rituals inside the caves, the
professor paused, almost as if she could see herself from my perspective,
doubly framed by archway and the sunshine outside. Her face was completely
hidden in shadow, her form haloed in white light. Only her voice reached me.
disappointed in Athens,” she said. Her American accent sounded sheared, like a
sheep. “I was disappointed,” she repeated, “to find your violence erotic. But
it was the men who chose you because you act more like a bodyguard than an
Her unease managed to make it sound like an insult as much as a compliment. Then the space she had darkly filled was empty and became a brilliant doorway.
white light stirs in my memory into the matte black spinel of that Theran
night. It felt different from other nights when I had swum in the caldera and
lain on a quay, cooled by the meltami,
the summer wind that never stopped blowing. But I had been with others and scorned
their romantic tales of history and myth. That night, I climbed alone to the
Akrotiri ruins. I carried a large torch, but it hardly penetrated a darkness
that seemed to go back in time as well as space. So I gave up and turned out
the light, laying down my sleep rug on one of the wide stones. I had never seen
the stars so close. Then I heard the Professor approach before I saw the beam
of light from her torch.
I had resolved
not to make conversation. Apparently, Irene had made the same decision, so we
sat or walked about mutely, separately, for several hours. I watched the zodiac
slowly move across the sky. I won. Irene broke the silence. She sounded like an
“Kalliste — most beautiful — was its
first name, this island. Jason interpreted the dream of one of his Argonauts on
their return with the Golden Fleece. Jason told Euphemus to throw a handful of
earth into the sea. Kalliste grew up
out of the water from that toss. Euphemus’s descendants settled on Lemnos and
then Sparta, and finally Theras came here. The island is named Thera for him.”
Santorini come from?”
“For Saint Irene
of Thessalonika. Patron saint of the island.”
Irene moved into
the crossed beams of our torches which lighted her from below.
“How did you learn
to fight like that?” she said.
“Until a month
ago, I was illustrating pig dissections and teaching a class frequented as
often by anatomy students from the med school as by art students. I learned to
fight by being hit. Which is why I left.”
Silence. She won.
I said, “You believe the Athenian’s theory that Deukalion’s flood was the
tsunami of the Atlantis eruption?”
“We’re trying to
excavate the truth.”
understand the archeological quest.”
In the torchlight
all I could see was her lower torso and the blunted outline of the stones. The
sky was close, the ground still gave off heat, and the wind never stopped
“Neither did my
husband. He was more interested in holding on to the future than the past. He
married one of his students. Your age, I should guess. The dentist in Athens
was amazed by your eyes.”
“Did he think I
was a Nea Kameni vampire?”
“That’s a yes,” I
said. “Do you have children?”
teenagers at camp in their father’s custody for the summer. I wondered if your
eyes were like a cat’s and would reflect light in the dark.”
My eyes were a
hazel so pale they looked yellow, rimmed by remnant RNA for dark brown pigment
in three rings. My mutant iris looked like Plato’s map of Atlantis before the
I returned to
steadier ground. “There was the Flood. A dove and land. Deukalion went ashore
to pray for the restoration of humanity. ‘Throw the bones of your mother behind
you,’ the oracle said. Deukalion–”
“—and his wife,
Pyrrha,” Irene added.
“—and his wife,
Pyrrha, decoded that it meant to throw stones over their shoulders. Where the
stones landed, men and women sprang up.”
At that moment,
at Irene’s ankles I saw two black snakes appear. She felt them and looked down.
harmless,” she said, and to my horror, she bent over and took one up in each
hand. The crescent moon had risen high enough so that it looked like a crown on
her coiled hair, her bare neck as white as the moon. Untrustworthy, re-created
memory! The torchlight stayed on the ground, but that is how I remember it,
Irene standing like a Minoan goddess, snakes in hand, winding around her bare
We must have
slept. I know this: we came awake in the dark with the sense of dawn near. The
stars were occluded by cloud. The cow horns of the moon must have passed
overhead to the other side of the mountaintop. I was lying on the rug and Irene
was close beside me. I turned. I couldn’t see her face.
I said, “Parakalo. Please.”
“Ne,” she whispered, “yes.”
“And in the very surge and breaking of the flood, / the wave threw up a bull, a
fierce and monstrous thing, / and with his bellowing the land was wholly
filled.” The bellowing noise was the earthquake. It was the dogs barking that night
on Thera. It was my blood pounding in my ears. I saw lightning like no
lightning I had seen before, many-branched like a giant tree. It lasted too
long, on and on for seconds, for minutes. This lightning was the same that
lighted Jason the way through the volcanic cloud’s darkness to neighboring
Anaphe. The eruption ejected ten cubic miles of island up into the sky so far
it was seen and recorded in China. The exhausted island sank 1300 hundred feet
into the sea, forming the beautiful caldera bay where now varcas bobbed in the light. Which too came. A brief shower, like a
mist, cooled us. Cloud rose off the water, rolling like waves above the waves.
It rose up the mountainside over the sleeping white houses tucked into the
cliff face, and it floated in the fields which our mountaintop view spread
below us. She was small, peaceful on my chest.
“This is where
the end of the world began,” she said, quiet for more heartbeats, and then she
sat up, startled. “Look!”
I followed the
line of her snake-bare arm. In a distant field, the cloud-like mists assumed
human shapes, and the sky was lighted from beneath the rim of the wine dark
sea. Silver light was turning gold. Then in a trumpet-like silence, out of the
bronzing Mediterranean the sun rose, huge and whole and round, pink, then as if
reddening with arousal.
“It’s the mist!”
Irene was laughing. “It’s the mist!”
The climbing sun
rayed down and through the earthclouds, making the uppermost layer gleam like
blinding metal shields. Irene stood up, her back to me, watching the quickening
meltami move the mist like a
battalion. I found her long skirt on the altar stone. I dug out my lost tooth
from her pocket and threw it away behind me.
explanation satisfied the locals. It was the professor’s deference to them that
mollified the peasants; I doubt anyone in authority had ever treated them with
respect before, back to the time before the Minoans had escaped the Flood.
Where had they all gone, the 30,000 or more Kallisteans
whose skeletons were never found but one? One human skeleton and one piglet
left alone on all Thera before the end of the world. Who warned them? How did
they know? Where did they go? The researchers debated these questions endlessly
throughout August as the frantic excavating continued against a deadline and
daily threat of the mercurial moods of Greek generals and xenophobes.
I knew. The high
priestess had saved her people, directing them to sail to their ports in
Phoenicia and Spain, to outposts as far north as England. And millennia later,
when the Romans finally came, we fled again farther north and west. Those
snakes St. Patrick banished from Eire? Those standing stones in the Orkneys
where I summered as a boy? Not the first
end of the world at all, the beautiful island thrown into the ancient sea had
generated immortal waves.
Paris was always more than Paris: the light of Monet’s garden illuminating Renoir’s picnic, the playgrounds of Matisse, Lautrec. Art drunk with croissants every morning on lace-covered tables with forsythia blooms in cerulean, the aroma of burnt sienna- cups brimming with water lilies, pure ambrosia soft like ripe brie. The Jerusalem of Chagall where every man who sees the fiddler on Notre Dame’s roof becomes a Jew. Even mounds of lush peaches form fine sculptures outside Georges Pompidou station, art, like lunchtime lovers spilling everywhere.
Exhausted Soil by Alice-Catherine Jennings
Flattened out, zip lined to zero I feel the flames spear out & rip through the gambrel of Our Lady— Notre Dame…“La flèche! La flèche!” the spectators sob as the spire collapses. How can I then return in happy plight
to Paris? That roof—lattice of wooden beams cut from trees in pristine forests. Trees so huge they exist no more. Now I— must weep for the trees! And night doth… make grief’s length seem stronger. And yet, in Iraq when St. Elijah, Dair Mar Elia
was crushed by ISIL fever, clouds did not blot the heavens of my thoughts.
*How can I then return in happy plight and And night doth nightly make grief’s length seem stronger are lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 28.
Carol Alena Aronoff, Ph.D.is a psychologist, teacher and poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She was twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has published a chapbook, Cornsilk and five full-length poetry collections: The Nature of Music, an expanded, illustrated Cornsilk; Her Soup Made the Moon Weep; Blessings from an Unseen World and Dreaming Earth’s Body : poems by Carol Alena Aronoff, paintings by Betsie Miller-Kusz . Her sixth full-length poetry book, The Gift of Not Finding: Poems for Meditation, is forthcoming in 2020 from Homestead Lighthouse Press and another chapbook, Tapestry of Secrets will be published by Finishing Line Press in November.
Alice-Catherine Jennings grew up in Ohio playing the accordion at poker parties. After years of working/studying here and there in the US and in Mexico, Colombia, Germany, Italy, and Portugal, she now lives in Santa Fé, New Mexico. Her poetry has appeared in various publications worldwide.
Late at night we drink tea with a hint
of mint and sugar stirred in the dark leaves. Traditionally, at least here in
Senegal, the host pours the pot from high above a few glasses, no drops
missing. First, the chief or a guest or someone with a birthday will slurp it
from the rim of the glass until it is empty, and then more is poured from the
pot’s high perch and the glass is passed to the next person around the fire.
The tea is potent. By eleven pm my African friends, whose nature and genes defy
caffeine, sleep peacefully while I, well, I clean the village, repair the
Mosque wall, redesign the flawed forage, and fill the troughs.
This tea opens my veins. Once I
couldn’t sleep, so I scrubbed the kettle, rid it of months of food chunks, rice
burned black to the inside. At dawn, our cook cried, “Who cleaned the pot?!” I
confessed and smiled, but everyone stared, shook their heads and walked away.
That night the rice was dry and bland. Weeks passed before whatever had grown
or crawled inside the kettle returned and flavored the food. I blame the tea.
The tea ceremony is called Attaya.
The first round is strong and bitter, the second sweeter with a hint of mint,
and the third round is sweet and minty. It mirrors friendship, which grows over
time to reflect how the longer we know each other the sweeter the relationship
becomes. What happens most during Attaya, however, is talk. We consume
conversation. We talk about the rain, if there is any, the wind, which is more
common, and the oppressive sun. And the villagers return to their natural
spaces, rest or sleep peacefully. I leave the fire wondering if I had enough
materials to tunnel to Mauritania. I just can’t sleep.
I usually drink first, last and
sometimes after each other friend around the fire until I am tea’d up as if I
drank two pots of espresso. I vibrate. I stare at the stars while friends snore
nearby, and I redesign the heavens. At home, I might have dozed off in front of
a movie after a snack, seldom walking out to see the stars, settling instead
for the famous ones on late night television. But not in the village where
after the tea and conversation around the fire leaves everyone fast asleep, I
sit up straight at three am and find astrological images of American authors.
“Look,” I’d tell no one, “there’s Hemingway! And Orion’s belt looks like the
shotgun he used. And there to the south is Fitzgerald, the racist bastard.
Look, there’s Zelda picking his drunk ass up off the floor.”
But, unlike at home, it doesn’t
wear off. No ebbing sense of tiredness, no headaches when I don’t drink. No.
When I first arrived in the village, the chief looked like God; he is taller
than most, well over six feet anyway, and dark, with long, thin, strong arms,
and a white robe that wraps down his legs. He is ancient and eternal. He is
Achilles. He is Gandhi. He is Mohammad. Even when doing nothing at all, this
man has complete determination about him.
“What is your purpose here?” he
asked me in those first days. “Why are you here?”
“To see what’s out here; to meet
people like you,” I said, and he nodded. “To have a look around,” I added. “To
see more stars. You have more stars than we do at home.” We laughed, and that
first night he poured tea in some beautiful and ritualistic way. I had traveled
often, but never before had I felt so safe, so in touch with a group of people,
and so welcomed. I wondered what life here would have been like had the
Europeans not decided for them what their future held. At the same time, I
could not imagine a more genuine existence. I stayed.
One night, while staring at the
stars, after I found the zodiac which resembled the Stoning of St. Stephen and
profiles of Chinua Achebe, I went out to the well where men did not go during
the day, and I hauled up water for the emaciated cattle. Some nights I’d study
Arabic, listen to men chant, grind millet into flour, and teach myself Fulani.
Often, I’d walk outside the village wide awake, stupid awake, like the
personification of some nocturnal double-shot, and I’d blend with the sound,
the lack of sound, the immersion of my entire self in the liquid of African
sound and listen to what was missing. It took a complete opening of my senses
to finally tune in to what wasn’t there: no sound of blame or disillusionment.
No sound of hypocrisy. All I could hear in that tight-rope awakeness was that
one passing moment: the complete absorption of now. It took an absolute absence of civilization
to feel completely aware and connected.
It wasn’t the tea. Sugar and
caffeine had nothing to do with this.
When I first came to the village,
I bought space in a van on Saint-Louis Island just below the Mauritanian
border. The driver, a tall Toucouleur man with black etched marks on his
temples, told me to join them. At one point on the all- day trip east to the
village, across the river region of Senegal, our van driver pulled over to sell
us to another driver. They negotiated beneath the hood of the van while we sat
in the dust of the worn-out road, its edges chewed by age and wind, some
portions completely digested by drought, and those of us who weren’t Muslim ate
rice and drank warm water beneath the oppressive May sun.
We were sold quickly to the other
driver and eventually we left. At dusk again, we pulled over so the driver
could break fast along with any others who so desired, and shortly later we
continued on to our final stop where well after dark I trekked on foot across
the barren land.
I was befriended by many in the
small village, and through hand signs and a friend who spoke Pulaar, we
communicated. Eventually, the conversation moved toward history, toward
colonialism, toward the west, and toward slavery. I told them I was on Goree
Island a month earlier. It, along with Saint-Louis Island where I spent the
night before catching the van east, had been holding areas for slaves during
French rule from the 1600’s through the 19th century, and even
before then as ships moved back and forth to Lisbon. Saint-Louis, in particular,
became the crossroads of all things West Africa. It was the gathering place for
Europeans and Africans, Christians and Muslims, slaveholders and slaves. It was
on a West African island like Saint Louis where Europe first stole the heart of
West Africa when Antonio Gonsalves brought Africans back to Portugal in the
1400’s and began one of the longest sustained genocides in the history of
humanity. It was simple enough to pit Africans against each other—supplying arms
to one area, such as Mauritania, to capture another area, such as Senegal. What
remains, then, is a region raped of her strongest men, her most able women, and
her very future. What strength this continent must have had and lost. It was
only later in the village I discovered the idea, the faith, that is Inch’Allah,
“if God agrees.” I had never experienced faith like this where fasting is a
pleasure and where sacrifice is a gift.
And every night, I look forward to
the break of fast, so with my friends, I can drink potent tea.
Awake doesn’t really describe it.
It is the kind of consciousness that comes with the confidence that everything
is going to be alright. You can’t legally grow that. It doesn’t brew well.
At dawn, before the fast of day,
there is a way in which everyone wakes, smiles, and moves like fluid through
the small village. It is Ramadan, and people eat before dawn to sustain them
through the day, when through fasting rather than swallowing they seek the
grace of Allah, and the pangs of hunger remind them of their pure pursuit of
the truth. Then as the sun sits on the horizon, they wait, watching, water and
bread at the ready, to break their fast and come to life, culminating before
long in Attaya.
But for me it is the space, the unreachable horizon, the vast imagination of Africa spread like distant but promising hope. It is that quick but fleeting moment of clarity that makes me sit up straight and watch the increasing soft glow on the eastern plains. It is the persistence of some primitive way of life that had no chance of surviving but survives anyway which finds me in prayer and at peace, which keeps me awake searching the heavens.
Bob Kunzinger is a writer now living in Virginia who lived in Africa for some time. His work has appeared in World War Two History, The Washington Post, and many newspapers and journals throughout the world. He has published eight collections of essays, and several works have been noted by Best American Essays. Bob is currently at work on a book of essays about crossing Siberia with his son.
About 5 in the morning, while most passengers were still asleep, the train barreled across the short border between darkness and light. My carryall bag on the overhead rack contained an entire set of ant-dreams in polished amber. Spies lurked everywhere. “Moose. Indian,” they reported me telling a contact. Actually, I wouldn’t meet my contact, an Orchid of Asia, until some days later. At one point I forgot the word “cremated” and had to ask her, “What’s it called – incinerating the body?” We were standing in a muddy alley by a pomegranate tree whose fruit the children pretended were bombs.
Somehow we were always expecting something like this, a strange wind off the Atlantic, moaning and cursing and full of old hurts, tearing shingles from roofs and slamming birds against windows, threatening to fling us, too, into another country, where there are roadblocks and random document checks and coked-up child soldiers with machine guns cradled lovingly in their arms, and still it comes as a shock, so many people given a shove or a thorough beating and warned to move on, a pretty crappy way to die, when we might have just stayed together under a green tent of leaves.
Howie Good is the author of I’m Not a Robot from Tolsun Books and A Room at the Heartbreak Hotel from Analog Submission Press.
Editor’s note: My
cousin, Mordecai “Morty” Feldman, occasionally writes articles for the Travel
section of The New York Times. Last winter, I joined him and his wife
for a trip to Goa, India. He sent me the following story, which will soon be
published in the Sunday magazine supplement, pending a few revisions and
editorial streamlining. In exchange for me keeping quiet about a few indiscreet
moments of the trip, he agreed to let the readership of Foreign Literary
Journal have the first look at his dispatch. You’ll note that I do not
appear in his article. This is not because I asked to be left out;
it’s because Morty informed me that he just didn’t like me very much.
–Steve K. Feldman
Good old Goa! Good-as-gold Goa: the golden jewel of the
Indian Ocean coast, former Portuguese trading colony, cradle of Full Moon Party
hedonism, famed stop on the Hippy Trail from Istanbul to Bangkok in the
swinging 60s, and my home for a month the summer after my sophomore year at
Dartmouth, where I truly found myself.
Laugh if you want. Yes, I was strolling along Goa’s fine
white-sand beaches, watching the sun, the color of a ripe pomegranate, sink
into the placid sea, watching a team of locals drag a fishing scow up onto the
sand. When they finally had the boat stowed next to a grove of coconut palms,
they collapsed from near-exhaustion, but they smiled and laughed in easy
camaraderie, and shared cigarettes; their thin, lithe brown bodies oily with
sweat—perfectly at ease and peace, content with their hardscrabble
existence. They had everything they
needed in their little world right here—and how lucky I was to share just a
sliver of it. It was at that moment I
decided to switch majors from Hebrew literature to finance and management. So
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Goa, and let me tell you, as an
options trader at JPMorgan-Chase, I don’t often get accused of having a soft
spot for anything, except for making great gobs of money.
Of course the whole Full Moon rave
has long since moved on to Koh Phagnan in Thailand, and Goa as a whole seems to
have suffered from the “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded”
Yogi-Berra-ism, with most of my friends these days, when heading out for Asian
vacations, opting for eco-tourism in Myanmar, Sumatra, and Borneo instead of
the sandy stalwarts of Goa, Phuket, or Bali.
So, with my trading desk closed for a few weeks as SEC agents combed
through our hard drives looking for the evidence of insider trading I’d erased
months earlier, I found myself with time on my hands. I thought Goa was fresh
for a re-visit to see if the tandooris, the masalas, the chais, and of course the
fiery vindaloos were as good as I remembered or at least better than Sammy
Najapur’s on W. 53rd St., which always catered our casual-Friday lunches until
our real estate subsidiary bought their building and tripled the rent, forcing
them to move to Hackensack but hey what are ya gonna do?
My first pleasant surprise came
when we found out that Goa had its own international airport. (“We” being my
latest wife of 10 months Tayghan, who insisted on being mentioned in this
article. Okay Tayghan, you got your wish. You got mentioned in the New York
Times Travel section! Congrats! Happy
now? Do your friends and family down in Richmond even read the Times?) With its
own airport, that meant we could fly straight in from Charles de Gaul without
mucking about in Mumbai, which still seemed to be reeling from the latest
Pakistani-funded terrorist attacks. It would have been nice to stay at the Taj
Hotel again and taste the excellent brioche from their patisserie, but
apparently the last of the jihadists had holed up there, and the Indian
security forces’ elite Black Squad had to pry them out with tear gas and
flamethrowers, and since then, word is the espresso there just doesn’t taste
right anymore—residue from the tear gas perhaps?
From the airport, I decided to
rough it for the ride to the beach. I was already in the spirit of my old
backpacker days, so we hired a private car for $80 instead of a private limo
for a still-reasonable $250. Tayghan protested, but I insisted we start out by
getting an up-front, up-close-and-personal, boots-on-the-ground taste of Goa,
and what better way to start than by sitting only 3 feet away from our private
driver, instead of 9 feet away and separated from him by a plexiglass
divider? India is all about the smells,
and I wanted to smell our driver—that strange cumin / coriander / fenugreek /
turmeric smell that Indians tend to faintly exude even when freshly bathed.
Goa’s accommodations truly run the
gamut—there is something there for every taste and every budget—from the flashy
5-star resorts like the Amari Golden Mandala upwards of $1200 a night for an
ocean-view suite, all the way down to charming little boutique resorts like the
one we opted for, called the Anjuna Beachcomber Inn, at a wallet-friendly $280
Upon check-in we were greeted by
the owner himself, a charming rotund little Bengali gentleman named Naresh who
had somehow escaped the “shithole of Kolkatta” (His words! His words!). He was now living his dream running a little
beach hotel, serving spicy curries and cold mai-tais and making friends from
all over the world (You just made two more, Naresh! Good job! You have the cutest little
After stowing our bags, Tayghan
immediately wanted to go shopping. I thought she might have been all
shopped-out from the Duty Free in Paris during our layover—but guess
again! So I forked over my credit card
and we strolled along the little strip of shops in the lane behind the beach.
We bought some silk saris ($70 each), a teak incense holder in the shape of a
hooded cobra ($135), and some bronze wind-chime mini-gongs ($325). Make sure
you bring your hard-bargaining skills to Goa—you can easily get 30-40% off the
first quoted price, if you’re not worried about being seen as a cheap Jew.
Tayghan was soon oohing and ahhing over some driftwood sculptures of Shiva and
Vishnu that she thought would look great at our cottage in Easthampton, and
picked out three or four. Tayghan stayed to work out the shipping details with
the owner, and I continued on down the street.
Music was coming from several
different shops and beach bars, creating a hypnotically mellow mash-up
entwining Bob Marley, sitar-and-bamboo flute melodies, Hindu chanting, and
Coldplay. I passed by an incense and
wall-hanging shop with its owner standing in the doorway surveying the
passers-by with an easy grin and a twinkle in his eyes.
“What do you need, Boss?” he
said. “Weed? Coke? X? Acid? Anything you
want, no hassle, boss!”
Well! Soon I found myself sitting
on a coach in the shop’s back room, waiting for the runner to return with my
order, the owner and I chatting about the changes to Goa in the last 20 years.
“So many Russians now, my friend!” he said. “They are completely exasperating.
I must admit to you!” And then the head wobble, followed by, “But they do have
lots of money you see! And so we must be
welcoming to them!”
“The men are pigs, but their women
are hot!” I remarked.
He gave me another wobble and
said, “On that we can agree, my friend!” And then the runner came back with my
order: three hits of Israeli ecstasy (Flash! lightning-bolt imprint–$25 dollars
each), a gram of coke (Columbia, shade-grown coca leaves, fair-trade
certified–$80), two tabs of acid (Amsterdam, Snoopy Sopwith Camel
imprint—$15 each), and a half-ounce of
cheap Cambodian weed ($30). I added 10 Goa keychains and bottle-openers (50
cents each) for our secretaries and cleaning staff back at the office. Can’t forget
the little folk!
With both Tayghan and I worn out
but satisfied from our shopping haul, we spent the rest of the afternoon
lounging by the pool. For dinner, we opted for the restaurant at the Imperial
Lisbon Coconut Hideaway where the pistachio-crusted sea bass and curried
king-prawns with the truffle glaze were simply to die for! The wine list was
surprisingly impressive—as I sipped from an impressive bottle of Argentinian
Torrontes Ugni blanc ($280), I thought, wow, am I really in Goa? And as I did a
line of coke in the men’s room while Tayghan was chatting with the young
Russian couple at the adjoining table, I thought, “oh yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
yeah yeah. Whooooooo, FUCK!”
I came back to the table, and
found that Taygan’s new friends Dmitri and Sasha had invited us to a rave party
on the beach by their resort! Well, I was a little too old for raves, but what
the heck! Goa was truly a place for making new friends, and the X and the acid
would make the music palatable, I thought.
“So are you guys married?” I asked
our new friends while Tayghan was off in the ladies’ room.
“No, not married,” grunted Dmitri.
Sasha, a thin, stunning blond rolled her eyes and looked away, an expression on
her face of perfect boredom.
“Ah, how long have you been
“We are not dating. She is
“Oh, how interesting,” I said.
“Um, how much was she?”
He gave me the rundown: $300 an hour, $2000 for all night, $4000 for
24 hrs, long-term engagements negotiable with her pimp back in Kiev. “Yes, I
bring three with me,” he said. “You want one?
I give to you, no problem. You
have threesome with wife.”
“Oh, haha. Thanks, but I don’t think Tayghan would go
for that!” I said.
“You are man. You make the money.
You tell her—this is your vacation, you fuck who you want to fuck. You must be
hard, and she will understand. You American men, so afraid to hit a woman!”
Tayghan came back and soon we were
off to the beach rave, where Teghan and I danced with one of Dmitri’s whores
while the other two fellated him as he stood knee-deep in the ocean, hands clasped
behind his head, gently swaying as the beat of techno matched perfectly the
rhythm of the twin blond pony-tailed heads bobbing at his crotch. It was the
perfect ending to our first day in Goa!
Up next for tomorrow: paragliding, an Indian cooking class (yum yum!), and visiting a Hindu temple while tripping BALLS!
Steve K. Feldman currently lives in Cheonan, Korea, where he teaches literature and creative writing at the Bugil Academy Global Leader Program. He has been contributing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, theater performances, and stand-up comedy to a myriad of publications and events across South Korea since 2003.